The First Attempt to Announce Ourselves

tattoo on arm

Something like this

Last Friday I saw a woman walk by wearing a T shirt that said, “Don’t Blog About It”. Oh? So I knew I had a topic for this week. She was perhaps in her early 30s, had short straight blond hair, which I believe was dyed, and her upper left arm was heavily tattooed.

At the time I saw this woman, I was sitting at an outdoor table at the Café Framboise, in Charleston, South Carolina. I was drinking coffee, working on a poem, and watching an occasional horse-drawn tourist carriage clop slowly by. The tourists looked at us, we looked at them, and the horse looked stoically ahead. At a table nearby where I sat were three women who appeared Italian to me, having breakfast. Behind me I heard a woman say (strangely appropriately), “Vacation goes by fast, but the work week drags on.” I’m not sure what caused that truth to suddenly appear.

As I was writing down all these details, so that I could not blog about it, a pretty waitress came out and I noticed she had a French accent. I was just on the point of getting ready (or as we say sometimes in the south, I was “fixin’ to”) head down the street to a brew pub for lunch, then on to the Dock Street Theater to listen to chamber music.

For a second year, I was at the Spoleto Festival, hanging out leisurely in Charleston, listening to music, looking at art, eating seafood, and did I mention eating seafood? But since this is a language and literature blog whenever I have enough self control to do that, let’s focus on some language incidents from Charleston.

  • A clothing store named “Impeccable Pig”—I was thinking I probably should be buying my clothes there.
  • Another store called “Ooh! Ooh! Shoes!”—but I don’t wear shoes, so this didn’t matter to me.
  • At St. Philip’s Church, a sign in the graveyard that surrounds the church said, “The only ghost at St. Philip’s is the Holy Ghost.”—This may be true, as I tried calling a ghost and none came.
  • Gravestones can be an interesting kind of “literature”. Most of them said “Died” but I found several that said “Entered into rest”—It’s a pleasant euphemism, and after all who hasn’t had days in life of thinking “when does this suffering stop?”
  • Also in the graveyard I passed a family, mother, father, grandmother, and baby, who looked very American, out for your normal stroll in a graveyard, but I heard them speak a few words, and it turned out to be a Russian family.
  • In the linguistic cornucopia of Charleston, on another day when it was pouring rain, in a coffee shop I met a woman from Ireland and knew her by that delightful accent. We chatted a bit, and she had come to Charleston to help put on one of the Spoleto shows, the play “The Importance of Being Earnest”. By an Irish writer, you know.

During the Spoleto Festival, they give out catalogs about the events, and while looking through the catalog, I found an article by Carl Hancock Rux, in which he describes the cry we make when we’re born as “the first attempt to announce ourselves and to equally name suffering…”

I often think about writing (or art in general, frankly) as an “attempt to announce ourselves” to the world, so the quote of course struck me as a familiar idea, but then it has the second part, that we express ourselves to “name suffering”. Both of these ideas could have a long discussion. Do we truly have a need to say to the world “look, I’m here”? I think we obviously do, like getting a tattoo, but you might disagree in your quiet way. As to naming suffering, maybe that is what serious art is partly after, to give a voice to the suffering that is inevitable. Is art just more sophisticated versions of the cry of a newborn baby?

But don’t you think art can also sometimes be a voice of joy? Like sitting at an outdoor cafe, watching a horse, and thinking about lunch and chamber music.

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Filed under Language, Writing While Living

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